Vintage & the Beginning of Something

vintage lifeline dress

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The inspiration behind this blog post is a long Celia Ryan evening dress that buttons all the way to the top, with a long slip on the side (above). I don’t know about you, but just like love, I think you can apply fate to many things. Love doesn’t always have to be applied in a romantic context, for you can fall in love with your career, your pet/s, or your Grandmother’s old wedding dress. Last December I worked 2 jobs. I figured, it’s uni break and I wanted to gain some valuable experience in the beauty industry, while rolling in the dough. So I took up a second job as a beauty advisor at Crabtree & Evelyn. I got so used to going into the City pretty much every day for work, that one day when I actually had no work, I caught the train going there. Realising I wasn’t actually working, I decided to just stroll down the streets of Sydney without a care in the world, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art down in The Rocks, and buy a ferry ticket to Manly. That’s where I found the dress.  This dress symbolises the start of my vintage collecting. I’m telling you now, it’s the beginning of something great. The Northern Beaches is one of the best place to go op shopping because it’s where upper class, glove-wearing, hair-pinned nicely, and face done up with expensive Dior make-up women, give away their ‘old stuff’ to charity. Most of the time it’s all in perfect condition. Win! Anyway, so I found this dress in Lifeline on the 2nd floor, the vintage section. It was really awkward getting it of the mannequin because no one was on the 2nd floor and it felt like I was trying to nick it. Of course I was going to buy it (it was $16 believe it or not). I had to make it mine. Last Wednesday, I interviewed Wendy Doughty, the owner of a vintage fashion boutique in Rozelle called Mint Condition. To her, “What’s special about vintage is that if you find a vintage dress and it fits you like a glove, nothing looks better.”

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In this day and age, op shopping/thrifting/vintage collecting is creating a cultural shift in the way we perceive and buy clothes. ‘Old’ has become new again. A lot of the time designer clothes are made in replicates – we do live in a consumerist world after all and everyone wants to make a penny. That’s how we survive. I once volunteered as a backstage dresser for a fashion show one time. At the end of the night, one pair of designer sunglasses went missing. The 2 guys who had just started off their first collection of sunglasses, laughed it off, saying “At least we know someone wants them”. I remember one of them telling me, “When people buy designer clothes, what they are really buying is confidence.” I couldn’t agree more. I think clothes are about how they make you feel. To some fashion is all about trends – specific colours, cuts and patterns. And so what do they do? They follow the crowd. For me, I simply buy what I love. But of course, at this point in time, being 22 and a struggling uni student, I can’t exactly buy a strapless haute couture evening gown embellished with Swarovski crystals when I walk past it in a glass window display and it’s calling my name.

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Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel once said, The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud. I think clothing is a creative avenue for self-expression. You don’t need expensive clothes to look and feel fab. You just need to know what you like and what suits your body shape. Growing up in a strict (and conservative) Filipino household, my mother would always comment on what I was wearing (even to this day unfortunately). Her favourite (repetitive) comment is, “That’s too short.” But what can I do, I’m 5’9 and all the typical 20-something clothing labels such as All About Eve and Lulu and Rose make generic sizes, which are a few centre metres too less. Funny story – my mum has size 11 feet and when she was growing up in the Philippines, she had to get customised shoes because none of the shoes there fit her (you’d think she’d understand, right? Yeah, no).

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Carefully rummaging through the racks at Mint Condition, not only were the vintage pieces in excellent condition, but they had a certain mystery about them, that made them so appealing. Who did they belong to in a previous life? Were they loved dearly or abandoned in a closet for years? As Wendy put it, “You can keep the mystery. You can create a new life for a piece. A new beginning for an old dress. Who cares what the history is. Love it for what it is and that it did have a history and it’s even more appealing when you don’t know what the history is. It’s a mystery.” She reminded me a bit of myself, the I’m-too-free-spirited-to-be-caged-in me. “1980. I was 16 and had my first stall at Paddington. I made $100 dollars. I’ll never forget it because it was just from cleaning out my bedroom to make room for more. And I just never looked back. I had the dealing bug, and so once I sold everything out of my room. I started looking for more elsewhere to sell.” Wendy was a regular market stall holder at the Rozelle markets for 10-12 years. She was there dealing legit stuff of course i.e. vintage treasures she had found, every Sunday. “I started in the early ’90s.” When her youngest son started school in 2006, the birth of her new love child, Mint Condition happened. Mint Condition is distinctly feminine, very retro and somewhat mystic. Perhaps because the store just has so much life in it. You can just feel the energy (or maybe because I just get so excited when I know I’ll find something I’ll instantly fallen in love with whilst op shopping). I picked up a few things there, including a ’70s yellow printed Japanese silk dress, a ’60s green and pink floral playsuit, a ’90s Portofino A-line skirt, and a midnight black patent leather gold-chained purse. When I asked Wendy what the inspiration is behind her store, her first answer was her mother. “My mother was born one month before Marilyn Monroe and she is more beautiful.” Hence, the Marilyn Monroe photos in the store. I like Marilyn Monroe. Beautiful, yet insecure. That’s how I’d describe her.

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